Compilations collecting genre obscurities have become ubiquitous in the decade since the re-release of Nuggets by Rhino in 1998. From Soul Jazz Records’ expert retrospectives to idiosyncratic reissue labels like Subliminal Sounds, the average trip to the (proverbial?) record store promises not only the latest contemporary releases, but also a definitive sampling of once-obscure genres like Italo Disco and African Highlife. Stones Throw imprint Now-Again has assembled Forge Your Own Chains with this market saturation in mind. The 16-track survey of “Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges” recorded between 1968 and 1974 forgoes loyalty to a specific country or style of music, highlighting tracks from a global cross-section of musicians and a diversity of genres.
Cut by Top Drawer, an obscure Kentucky outfit that released its sole album in 1969, the nine-minute opener “Song of a Sinner” is a perfect long-form psychedelic statement with a plaintive vocal and memorable guitar work that compares favorably with contemporaneous psych-rock classics like the 13th Floor Elevators’ “Pictures (Leave Your Body Behind).” “How Great Thou Art” follows, an arresting gospel/funk track by Cleveland’s the Sensational Saints. This study in contrasts between the two tracks is typical of the album’s sequencing. In the liner notes, producer/compiler Egon explains that none of the tracks were selected because of their rarity, only for their appropriateness in the context of the compilation.
This pragmatic approach allows a two-and-a-half minute blast of romantic psych-pop — Damon’s “Don’t You Feel Me” — to fit perfectly alongside Shin Jung Hyun & The Men’s achingly beautiful Korean-language ballad “Twilight.” Elsewhere you’ll find an exuberant folk-rock lament by the teenage Colombian brother-sister duo Ana y Jaime programmed against the AM radio-ready “It’s Not Easy,” a gorgeous one-off of psych-infused balladry by the Nigerian afro-beat group Ofege.
Other highlights include “Strawberry Rain” by Canada’s Ellison, an aggressive blues-rock track executed that could be mistaken for an unreleased Creedence side. The title track by D.R. Hooker from his legendary 1972 LP The Truth is another classic; a stoned vocal slinks along in time with restrained instrumentation, augmented by horn parts which reinforce the surreal atmosphere. From Iranian rock to Zombies sound-a-like psych-pop to Neil Young-inspired burnout jams, there are no missteps. Forge Your Own Chains is not only a great stand-alone compilation, but it also succeeds in exposing these great artists to an audience beyond the insular universe of hardcore record collectors.